This retelling of the story of Jesus' life is part of the Myth series that gave us Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson's Atlas. I cho...moreThis retelling of the story of Jesus' life is part of the Myth series that gave us Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson's Atlas. I chose it because I love Philip Pullman, and will read anything that he writes. I know that it is controversial for some Christians (who Pullman had already annoyed with the His Dark Materials trilogy), but I read it without any pre-judgement.
The key difference between Pullman's story and the one you will find in the Bible is that he has split Jesus into two twin brothers - Jesus and Christ. Jesus is passionate, friendly, loving, inspirational and firmly rooted in the Jewish traditions. Christ is more detached, logical, cynical and philosophical. As children, Jesus is the free-spirited one and it's often down to Christ to get him out of various fixes. As adults Jesus starts to preach and gather followers whilst Christ is left trying to understand and interpret his message.
My own personal feeling was that if this book was anti- anything, it was anti- the organisation and structure of the Christian church rather than anti-God or anti-Jesus. The character of Jesus could be seen as the "historical Jesus"; he tells his followers to follow all of the Jewish laws, he isn't interested in appealing to Gentiles and he wants the Kingdom of God to come rather than to found a church. He doesn't perform miracles either - in the story of the multipling fish and loaves, Jesus simply encourages and inspires people to share what they had but were keeping for themselves. His message is simply of love and respect. Jesus preaches about the dangers of men taking power in the name of religion and the corruption that would grow in any Church that bore his name - the punishments for disbelief, the exploitation of the poor and the wars.
In contrast, Christ stands for the church and it's interpretation of Jesus. Whilst supposedly 'recording for history' what Jesus has said, Christ is always embellishing it, making it more appealing for the "simple minded" who he thinks need miracles to believe in something. When a solitary person waves a palm leaf as Jesus enters Jerusalem, Christ turns this into Palm Sunday. He sees his brother's life as a story, something he can change and make more appealing to converts. He is willing to commit immoral acts for the sake of this good story being the foundation of his new Church and has no concern that he is misreporting what actually happened and changing what his brother said;
"Sometimes there is a danger that people might misinterpret the words of a popular speaker. The statements need to be edited, the meanings clarified, the complexities unravelled for the simple-of-understanding.....we shall begin the work of interpretation." p74.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the writing. Pullman writes simply and leaves the reader to interpret events however she/he wishes. There was one or two 'cheap shots' against religion, especially concerning the conception of Jesus but to a non-Christian like me it appeared as though Jesus' message of love was respected. I think this book would only be offensive for Christians who view the gospel as literal fact rather than a message. It's not intended to be a serious biography of Jesus or in anyway historical, it's just a literary version of it designed to make people think about the development and roots of Christianity.(less)
I am not a big mythology fan so it was with some trepidation that I picked up The Song Of Achilles, a retelling of the Trojan War from the point of vi...moreI am not a big mythology fan so it was with some trepidation that I picked up The Song Of Achilles, a retelling of the Trojan War from the point of view of Achilles' companion Patroclus. Patroclus is a prince exiled from his kingdom for accidentally killing another boy who comes to live in Phthia with King Peleus and his beautiful son, Achilles. Achilles is of course destined to be the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. Growing up together, Achilles and Patroclus become close despite the disapproval of Achilles' mother, the sea goddess, Thetis. When Helen is kidnapped and the Trojan War begins, Patroclus must face the certainty of everything he has ever loved being taken away.
I couldn't have been more wrong about The Song Of Achilles. I thought it was going to be a stuffy read bogged down in mythological details but it was the opposite - it was a beautiful love story and a tale of how events can change and overcome people. Patroclus is a very self-critical narrator which endears him to the reader immediately and Miller does a fantastic job of showing the emotion and fear of falling in love for the first time. Her writing is just stunning, packed with description and emotional resonance;
"Had she really thought I would not know him? I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell, I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world."
I don't read much romance but I was utterly caught up in the love story of The Song Of Achilles. Rather than just showing the two characters falling in love, she also showed how that love changed as they grew up and as Achilles' desire for recognition overtook his other characteristics. I was so engrossed in the characters and the world of the book that several of the pages near the end moved me to tears. Even now, two days later, I'm still thinking about this book. Surely that's the sign of an outstanding book, one that doesn't fade from memory?
Although the love story is at the heart of The Song Of Achilles, the book is much more than that. For someone who only knew the basics of the Trojan war, I felt that Miller did a great job at making the mythology accessible. I particularly loved her characterisation of Odysseus as a smart, quick-witted trickster who is decent underneath. The horror of war is not shied away from and nor is the nastier side of human motivation. The Song Of Achilles is Miller's debut novel and I can say with certainty that I will read anything she writes next with high expectations.
I would recommend this book to anyone - it may be about Ancient Greece and the Trojan war but it's really about the human condition. Half Blood Blues is no longer my tip for the Orange Prize 2012. (less)
The Snow Child is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who escape to Alaska in the 1920s. Sick of being around constant reminders of their...moreThe Snow Child is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who escape to Alaska in the 1920s. Sick of being around constant reminders of their inability to have children of their own, they move to Alaska in the hope of starting a new life. But Alaska is difficult and Mabel soon starts to slide into hopelessness. During the first snow of winter, they make a snow girl, only to find that she has vanished by morning. They start to see glimpses of the girl running through the woods, who hunts animals to eat and sleeps outside in all weathers. They come to love her as the child they never had, but is Faina all that she appears to be?
The beauty of this book was all in the magical setting. I enjoyed the story and characters, but what I will remember is Ivey's wonderful descriptions of the Alaskan winter; blizzards that shake the houses, crystallised snow flakes and crunchy walks across freshly fallen snow. I love to be transported to a different place by a story and The Snow Child definitely met this criteria. It captures the magic of winter perfectly.
I wasn't surprised to learn that The Snow Child was based on an old Russian fairytale, Snegurochka (the snow maiden) and felt that it was strongest when including these fairy tale elements. The sections describing Faina as a young child in the few winters after Mabel and Jack made the snow girl, were by far and away my favourites. I liked the suggestions that Faina might dissolve in the heat, that she had befriended a wild fox, that she had unnatural affinity with the woods. I so wanted this to be a proper, old-fashioned fairytale.
And whilst Ivey does keep parts of Faina's character deliberately obtuse so you can decide for yourself what she was, I felt as though the book really lost steam once Faina started to grow up and interact with more of the people living near Mabel and Jack. The magic started to wear off and the book became about human relationships and human issues. Although the ending of the book was interesting, the magic had long since worn off for me. I think The Snow Child would have worked much better as a novella involving only the first half or so of the book. I know lots of people have adored this book but it just didn't quite work for me.(less)
Percy Jackson is a twelve year old boy with a bit of a troubled past. Wherever he goes, strange things keep on happening to him, resulting in him bein...morePercy Jackson is a twelve year old boy with a bit of a troubled past. Wherever he goes, strange things keep on happening to him, resulting in him being kicked out of every school he has ever attended. When the story starts, Percy is attending Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled children. When the class go on a field trip with their Latin teacher, he is attacked by a strange mythological creature in a museum and things begin to turn very strange indeed. Percy's best friend reveals he is a satyr, his Latin teacher is actually a centaur and Percy has to seek protection at Camp Half-Blood as he is a demi-god, the son of a Greek god. And things aren't going well with the gods....someone has stolen Zeus' lightning bolt and Percy becomes involved with the attempt to rescue it before the summer solstice.
I really enjoyed The Lightning Thief. It's a fun, action-packed book that doesn't take itself too seriously. The action starts within a few pages and there's never a dull moment as the story progresses. I like the idea of using Greek mythology to inspire the story and this is cleverly done by Riordan with a few neat touches, such as having Mount Olympus move to whichever country is currently the heart of Western civilisation (thus explaining why it is in America at the moment). The book is at it's best when the mythology is at the forefront, like when the heroes visit the Underworld. I liked how Riordan stays true to the original mythology whilst updating it for a modern audience, for example Hades' palace in the Underworld is guarded by Greek and Marine skeleton soldiers.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is billed as the 'American Harry Potter' and there certainly are similarities between the two stories. There's a mysterious prophecy about Percy he isn't allowed to hear yet, one of his best friends is an extremely smart girl, he has black hair and green eyes, strange things happened to him as a child etc etc. Even though the similarities are there, it really didn't read like a Harry Potter rip off to me and the world created by Riordan based on Greek mythology is sufficiently different from the magical world of J.K. Rowling for it not to matter.
In fact, I just loved The Lightning Thief. If you don't take it too seriously and just strap yourself in for the ride, it's a fun, engrossing book that will leave you wanting to reach for the next one in the series immediately. Yes, the book is a bit heavy handed with the clues (especially about which of the Gods is Percy's father) and the monsters are a bit easy to defeat, but it's total comfort reading and perfect escapism. I loved losing myself for a few days in this book.(less)